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Pentagon Denies Withdrawal, Blames 'Poorly Written' Letter

US is just repositioning troops, Milley says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 6, 2020 5:06 PM CST

(Newser) – Top Pentagon leaders said Monday that the US has no plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, despite a draft letter from a senior military officer that appeared to suggest a withdrawal was being planned. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the US is "moving forces around” Iraq and neighboring Kuwait. He said a draft letter circulated internally by a Marine commander was "poorly written" and should never have gotten out, the AP reports. The draft letter appeared to suggest the US was preparing to pull troops out of Iraq in response to a vote by its Parliament over the weekend. The draft said troops would be "repositioning over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement" and warned of an increase in helicopter travel around the Green Zone. It added, "We respect your sovereignty decision to order our departure."

Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, however, said the US has been repositioning troops, largely due to increased security threats from Iran. The letter was meant to coordinate with the Iraqi military on an increase in US helicopter and troop movements. "There's been no decision whatsever to leave Iraq," Esper said. Some language in the letter "implies withdrawal," Milley acknowledged. "The long and the short of it is, it's an honest mistake." Esper said the US remains committed to defeating the Islamic State group in Iraq and the region. Pro-Iran factions in the Iraqi Parliament have pushed to oust American troops following the killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad in a US drone strike last week. A three-ship US naval group that includes 2,200 Marines and a helicopter group is on its way to the Persian Gulf region, per Bloomberg.

(Read more Iran stories.)

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